With 18 days left in the 2022 legislative session, Republicans in a coordinated campaign, railed against Democratic lawmakers on Thursday for not taking more aggressive legislative action against violent crime.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and legislative Republicans held news conferences in Annapolis to stoke public support for a variety of GOP anti-crime measures and to blame Democrats for carnage in Baltimore.
The provocative statements came the same week that Republicans on Capitol Hill accused U.S. Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, of being soft on crime — a sign that Republicans think the crime issue is a political winner for them.
Hogan said that 143 people have been shot and 64 killed in Baltimore since the General Assembly convened 71 days ago.
“Twenty-two more people have been shot in Baltimore since Friday, including eight shot and three killed in just one day,” Hogan said during a news conference Thursday afternoon. “These aren’t just statistics — these are lives tragically snuffed out and families that will never be the same.”
Hogan insisted that Baltimore police, judges and prosecutors have been mishandling crime, allowing those who have been charged with violent offenses to walk free.
“The reality is that, no matter what actions we take at the state level, Baltimore City leaders will never get control of the out-of- control violence if they don’t arrest more, prosecute more and give tougher sentences to the most violent criminals to hold them accountable and to get them off the streets,” he said.
Frustrated with the city’s local authorities, Hogan announced that he would be funneling $3.5 million in state funding to create 30 new positions within the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute people charged with violent offenses in federal court.
“This is the second time we’ve invested state funding to pay for the expansion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to add additional federal prosecutors dedicated exclusively to charging Baltimore City repeat violent offenders with federal crimes,” he said.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron thanked Hogan for the “unprecedented level” of additional funds.
Asked if the office was facing a staffing shortage, Marcia Murphy, a spokesperson for Barron, said that “the office is actively hiring talented professionals.”
Hogan also pledged to provide $35 million in state funding to victims’ services and $6.5 million to the Baltimore Police Department’s Warrant Apprehension Task Force.
And Maryland State Police will partner with city law enforcement to patrol “high crime” areas in the city, Hogan said.
The governor said that Baltimore residents are wondering why lawmakers have “refused to take action to get the shooters off the streets and out of the neighborhood” — a notion expressed by House and Senate Republicans during a Thursday morning news conference.
“How many lives could have been spared if the General Assembly had acted three years ago or two years ago, or even one year ago?” House Minority Whip Haven N. Shoemaker Jr. (R-Carroll) asked. “How many lives could we save if we finally come together and do this now?”
But Senate Democrats have devised their own package to address crime, including increasing judicial and prosecutorial accountability, regulating ghost guns and providing job support for persons who have served sentences and are reentering communities.
Hogan said that Republicans are “closer than ever before” to passing some of his priority crime legislation in the General Assembly, including the Judicial Transparency Act of 2022.
In its original form, that emergency legislation would have required a comprehensive annual report on the sentencing decisions by individual judges, including details on sentences outside Maryland Sentencing Guidelines.
The bill was amended in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to strip it of emergency status and report the sentencing data by county or circuit, rather than by individual judges.
Some Republicans were frustrated by the amendment.
“By that level of compromise, it’s like you go to ask your teacher how’s your child doing? And they and they tell you, ‘The class average is a C,’” said Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford). “Is my kid the failure or the or the A here?’”
“Sometimes compromise goes a little bit too far,” he continued.
Hogan still hopes that his Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2022 will make it to his desk, too.
That measure, House Bill 423, would set mandatory penalties and lengthen sentences for people repeatedly convicted of firearms offenses or caught illegally possessing guns.
It would also increase penalties for anyone who supplies a gun to someone convicted of repeat firearms offenses.
Portions of Hogan’s bill were amended into Senate Bill 861, including measures to make the use of a firearm or assault weapon during the commission of a violent crime a felony offense.
The Senate has passed Hogan’s firearms legislation twice, but it has never made any headway in the House chamber.
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) called Hogan’s 2022 firearms offender bill “problematic for a number of reasons” — notably the mandatory minimum sentences it includes.
“I think there’s a fundamental understanding in the House and amongst the Democratic Caucus in the Senate that that’s not the right solution or prescription for our public safety problems, and so I suspect the House won’t move on that bill and, this year, neither will the Senate,” Smith said.
Smith said crime is “top of mind for everyone in Maryland in every jurisdiction, and there’s just a fundamentally different approach,” between Democrats and Republicans.
The House’s top Republicans also have little hope.
“I don’t think that the will of the leadership right now in the House of Delegates is to do this,” said House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany).
The governor said Thursday that the Senate did not plan to move on the Violent Firearms Offender Act until it passed out of the House.
Republicans’ frustration seemed to be aimed specifically at the House, which has consistently shelved the legislation.
“What happens every year is it’s like Charlie Brown and the football: We pass the bill and then the House doesn’t do anything with it — they take the football away,” Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) said Thursday morning. “We just simply need the House to start off by giving us a hearing for once and then to vote on it take action on it.”
But Democrats push back against the GOP rhetoric and tout their own crime-fighting record.
“So far this session, the House has passed legislation to outlaw ghost guns, improve security at firearms dealers and institute critical crime-fighting reforms in State government while providing record levels of funding to parole and probation,” Jeremy P. Baker, chief of staff for House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said in a statement. “The people of Baltimore need investment in education and communities, not political finger-pointing.”